Available first in German, the long-awaited new catechism of the New Apostolic Church (NAC) was officially released on Dec. 4, 2012 and signals important developments in this largely European denomination, reports German Protestant theologian Kai Funkschmidt in the journal Materialdienst der EZW (January).
Although the church maintains its belief in the special mission of its “apostles” for humanity, the new catechism attempts to formulate an ecumenical, open approach at a time of membership decline in Europe, where a number of church buildings have been sold. The catechism replaces a previous book that was published in 1992 and had only undergone minor changes since then. Summarizing the doctrine of the NAC, the new catechism is eight times longer than its predecessor.
Parts had been made public in 2010 and 2011, leading to lively debates within the church, something that was itself a novelty in a hierarchical organization such as the NAC.From the perspective of outside observers, the ecumenical opening represents the most significant development in the doctrines of the NAC and has also been emphasized at the release event. While the NAC had earlier presented itself as the true church of Christ, it is now spoken about as if it were one church among other denominations, although it still believe in the specific mission of its “apostles” for all Christians and the need of its ministry to deliver sacraments—with the exception of baptism: everybody who has been baptized in the name of the Trinity is considered as a Christian.
The fact that the current doctrines of the NAC are now clearly explained will also help it to progress in dialogue efforts with other Christian denominations initiated in recent years.Funkschmidt remarks that one should also pay attention to what is not mentioned or no longer taught in the new catechism. For instance, there is no mention of the ordination of women—which means the issue is still open, and “apostles” themselves concede that such a future development cannot be ruled out. Another important topic is that the Chief Apostle is no longer introduced as “the Representative of the Lord on Earth,” who can receive “new revelations;” the catechism now states that the Holy Spirit can provide “new insights” to the Apostolate on topics that are dealt in the Scriptures while not being fully unveiled.
Funkschmidt writes that the new catechism reflects the current stage in the ongoing ecumenical development of the NAC. Whatever the next steps will be and however fast it evolves, one could add that the NAC thus shares similar developments in other denominations in recent decades. It remains to be seen if such a process will manage to avoid divisions within the church, as often occurs in denominations going through significant transformations.
(Materialdienst der EZW, Evangelische Zentralstelle für Weltanschauungsfragen, Auguststrasse 80, 10117 Berlin, Germany, http://www.ezwberlin.de)